High-End Fitness Clothes: Are They Worth It?

adidas has its Stella McCartney line of high-end sports gear.  lululemon rushed out of the gate with its pricey yoga and fitness outfits.  Arc'teryx makes super engineered technical gear with a price tag to match.  Are all of these clothes worth it?

Well ... that depends. All of the lines mentioned above are extremely well made.  I happen to live in lululemon; it's actually a bit of a sickness ... but (and a big but here!) they are my office clothes, if you will.  These outfits are what I work in all day long and I know they won't pill, fade, shrink, or tear (I've had at least four pairs of leggings split on me over the years). Stella's stuff is very street cool, but some of her line actually isn't practical for exercise. I keep thinking I'm going to move the wrong way and show more than I intended. I love her collection but your body better have lines as sleek as her clothes to confidently wear them without embarassment. The high-end technical gear is really more for the guys.  Designers "engineer" their clothing to withstand, say, "a blizzard on the top of Mount Washington."  How often do you really need to do that? So here's my advice for what to splurge on and what you can buy "off the rack": Spend on footgear. Your feet carry you through life; do not mess with them!  Buy the best sneakers you can afford and change them every six months or so.  You need to make sure your feet are properly protected and supported through your workouts.  Get sport specific ones if you can; they are more suited to your chosen activity than a pair of cross trainers. Skip the pricey tops. Let's be honest: you're going to sweat in them, they're going to smell, and fairly soon you'll have pit stains.  Just go for the cheap-o but cute stuff at the big box stores or buy off the sale rack at the pricier stores and toss 'em when you're done.  Better yet, cut 'em up for cleaning rags and be a little eco-friendly. Consider splurging on bottoms. lululemon sells $98 leggings and they sell them in droves all day long.  They are a really, really well-designed pant.  If all you do is throw on sweats, work out, and then go home and throw them in the washer, then don't bother spending the money.  But if you use them as casual wear as well, or if you are a die-hard exercise fiend, consider spending the money here.  You won't regret it.  I have some lulus that are six years old and I still wear them every week.  (No I'm not getting paid to endorse them; I just like them that much!) Spend if you're serious about your sport.  If you're truly passionate about your sport, spend the money and invest in good pieces.  They will be with you for years and won't fail you at the worst possible moment.  From rapelling gear to yoga mats, if you love a particular form of movement, spend the money to do it right. Spend on socks if you're a middle to long distance runner. If you're doing 5Ks or less, you can probably get away with a regular pair of sport socks.  But if you rack up any decent weekly mileage numbers, start looking at those $1o to $15 socks.  They can help support the arch and keep your feet blister-free, things you'll be grateful for at mile 10, or beyond. Are there any high-end brands that you're in love with?  Please share them here, I love to find new lines.  Do you think buying pricey clothes helps your workout?  Let me know your thoughts. If you'd like more information, please sign up for my email newsletter with lots of extra tips that you won't see on the blog. Do you think dress size in America has changed?  Oh my yes, it has.  Here's a post on just how much it's shifted.

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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25 Responses to High-End Fitness Clothes: Are They Worth It?

  1. Pamela November 2, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Hi Lisa! Check out ellasport (ellasport.com). It’s a new line of women’s athletic apparel. Great fabrics, feminine silhouette, and the fit is fantastic!


  2. Julie November 2, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    I agree Lisa – I buy the better stuff for my pants. I used to buy (a very long time ago) Hotskins. I still have a pair that I can wear (granted a bit faded) after 8 years!!! So my $80 was very well spent. The other thing I LOVE about the high end pants (that are well made) is the construction/fabric tends to hide “flaws” (i.e. cellulite) better than the lower end pants.

    I am a die hard Lulu fan – they are so well made and I too wear them as my all day pants. There are a couple of other brands I buy – Bia BRazil (I get them at wholesale so this makes them VERY affordable)and Lucy. When Lucy runs a sale I am able to get a pair of pants for about $50 vs. the normal $80. Of course they may be “last year’s model” but I could care less.

    I do not pay as much for my tops. I can find good deals on tops that are “good enough”.

    Shoes for me are a must spend. Off and on I get tendonitis in my foot, ankle, shin. If I do not wear good shoes it gets much worse much faster.

    Great topic!! Love your blog.

  3. Kris @Krazy_kris November 2, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Such great tips – I’m a cheapo and haven’t splurged on anything like this – but it sounds like LuLu is a go-to? Hmmmmmmmm

  4. Joe Williams November 2, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks for the suggestion on socks, Lisa. I’ve noticed my cheap-o Wal-Mart socks getting threadbare with the training miles, especially in the heel, and so far only considered replacing them with the same. I’ll reconsider that given your suggestion above.

    Keep the posts coming, Lisa. You’re on quite the roll!

  5. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Thank you Joe! I appreciate it, and yup on the socks, serious runners should splurge :-)

  6. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Kris, Lulu is pretty awesome, I do get a discount as an instructor but not much! and I buy them anyway … you’ll have ’em for years …

  7. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Julie thanks for mentioning the tendonitis if you get low-grade sneakers. Shin splints is another common occurrence that a good pair of sneakers can help people avoid. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big proponent of buying high quality sneakers specific to your sport if you can afford to. :-) Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Alison Foster November 2, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Great article! I always wondered if the stuff at lululemon was worth the cash– now that I am going into personal training it looks like I’ll need to take a trip!

    Alison :)

  9. Jenna November 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    I’m also a die-hard LuLu fan! I often wear my LuLu pants with a longer sweater and trendy boots to make the outfit work for errands all day, pilates, then dinner/drinks with friends. I have clothes from LuLu that are well over 5 years old and still in perfect condition and I throw them in the washer and dryer with all my other clothes. The LuLu jackets and sweatshirts are great also (love the thumb hole!). I also recently discover Zobha pants which I love so far.

  10. Lisa Johnson November 2, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Jenna, glad you like the Lulu’s they are addictive aren’t they?

    Alison, I’m warning you … they are actually addictive … ;-)


  11. Monica November 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    I haunt the clearance rack at the underarmor outlet, and EMS, and REI. I’m also on about a million email lists for coupons and sales.

    When I first started running and triathlon, I bought the C9 wicking stuff at target, and it was, well, just ok. it’s fine for cardio at the gym, but when you start going out for a few hours of running or riding, the extra money spent for really good fit was worth every penny (especially for bike or tri shorts).

    oh, and good socks (wrightsocks) totally solved my blister problems.

  12. Cheryl @ Mommypants November 7, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    You are so right about socks! I won’t run any distance without wearing my Wright socks, and my running shoes are about $125. But I have to say I can’t spend the money for lululemon running shorts, even though my friends swear by them. My good old Nike shorts are still going strong (four years and counting) and are 1/3 of the price.

    I would spend money on a good running bra but I can’t seem to find one that I like or that fits me well. Any suggestions would be helpful!

  13. Lisa Johnson November 8, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Hi Cheryl, if you’re happy with the Nike shorts and they are doing the job then by all means stick with them! Everyone has different body types and uses for their fitness gear and you have to figure out the combo that works best for you.

    As for the bra, yes! Try Title IX, they have a huge array of bras and lots of testers and a great return policy if you don’t like anything. Here’s their link (not an affiliate) http://www.titlenine.com/

  14. Jessica November 15, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    I was going to suggest splurging on a comfy sport bra or three but you beat me to it. Good sports bras are an imperative. If you need to run or jump and depend on bounce control, you will thank your lucky stars for a good bra. I like Title Nine, but I have to warn you that unless you know for sure what a bra will fit like, their return policies are EXTREMELY customer unfriendly. If you purchase a product from the site or catalog that doesn’t work, you don’t get your shipping costs refunded so you essentially end up paying $15 to try on something that doesn’t fit. I had the experience of buying a bra through their website that made me so itchy I developed red welts within a minute of putting it on and when I brought the item to the local store (rather than pay to have it shipped back), I was only offered store credit instead of a refund and they didn’t refund my shipping! They have a great line of bras, but their customer service and return policies are so anti-customer that I only use them as a store of last resort. Unless you can try on the item and know you’re doing to keep it, I’d go to Nordstrom for a bra fitting and have them help you with sports bras. Their customer service and return policies are terrific, their selection is surprisingly good and their bras go on sale. I’d like to make another plug for Nordstrom (I swear I don’t have any ties to the company), but Zella, their in-house brand of workout clothing is terrific. Stylish, comfy, well made and well priced at about 25% less than Lululemon.

  15. Lisa Johnson November 15, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for the heads up on Title Nine, I haven’t had problems with them, but I haven’t bought a sports bra from them actually. I know lots of clients who have though and I love the vast variety they have online and in their catalogs. Oddly I bought a sports bra at Gap a few years back and they fit me perfectly. I went right back and bought two more. They’re pretty dead though, I have to get some new ones but I’m resisting change, lol. L–

  16. Christine December 29, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    Because I am built more or less like Christina Hendricks, I can’t find any athletic tops or bras, cheap or spendy, that don’t make me look and feel like I have a misshapen loaf of bread strapped to my chest. Any suggestions?

  17. Lisa Johnson December 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Christine actually yes! I work for ActivewearUSA.com now and I love their bras … here’s the full line … http://www.activewearusa.com/store/pc/Sports-Bras-c171.htm BUT check out the Shock Absorbers they are super comfy, great for running and I switched over to them … love, love … http://www.activewearusa.com/store/pc/Shock-Absorber-Sports-Bras-c105.htm I have the MAX Sports Bra top … :)

  18. Sonia Simone January 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I’ve got that Shock Absorber page bookmarked. :)

    I think Title9 is fine but Athleta does have a better return policy. (I think you pay for shipping, though, but they really let you wear it & try it out to see if it works well, none of this “tags still need to be on” business.) I go into my local Title9 so I can try bras on there.

    Best tops *ever* are from Ibex, because they don’t get stinky. They’re 100% wool, and not particularly stylish, but they’re amazingly dry, soft & comfortable for anything where you’re going to sweat for a sustained amount of time — a run, a hike, a bike ride, etc. They’re basically what you wish cotton was like. Smartwool is good too but I think Ibex is better, their stuff is softer & finer. Patagonia wool is not very good IMO, mainly I think because they blend polyester into it. It’s not as comfortable and I don’t think it will last as long — poly most certainly does not make wool more “durable” as Patagonia’s catalog copy claims.

  19. Lisa Johnson January 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for that Sonia, I have to admit I never once thought about wool in my sports bra! I’m going to have to check it out. :)

  20. Sonia Simone January 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    They do a bra but I don’t think it has any support. :) But look for their tees and base layers, total heaven. (Also underpants. Best underpants ever.)

  21. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Sonia, good to know I’ll check it out. :-) L–

  22. Lisa June 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Yes! Spend money on good running shoes!!! Your knees will thank you!

    It’s also worth spending the money on a professional bike fitting.

  23. Lisa Johnson June 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    Excellent edition Lisa … I agree … cuz things going numb is never good. :-) L–

  24. Samantha June 30, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    I wear Stella workout shoes and the durability is excellent!!! The weight of the shoes along with the comfort is amazing. Price points are decent and are consistently having sales whereas you can purchase for under a $100 at times.

  25. Lisa Johnson July 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Samantha thanks for chiming in and good to know about the Stella sales! There prices have definitely come down a bit since I wrote this post. :-)

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